Julian Edelman’s former coaches detail his ability to perform in clutch, which came well before Patriots

Ryan Hannable
January 17, 2019 - 7:46 am
Categories: 

When it comes to clutch, it’s hard to find anyone better than Julian Edelman.

Over his last 10 playoff games, the Patriots wide receiver is averaging 8.3 catches and 101.6 yards per game, including most recently against the Chargers when he recorded nine catches for 151 yards in the 41-28 win.

In the game, Edelman moved into second place all-time in playoff receptions with 98, passing Reggie Wayne, and now only trailing Jerry Rice (151) for the most all-time. He's also now seventh all-time in playoff receiving yards with 1,175.

Not all that bad for a player who was a quarterback in high school, junior college and college before being selected by the Patriots in the seventh round of the 2009 draft and moved to receiver.

But the reality is, Edelman has been like this his whole life.

“You never doubt Julian Edelman, you never doubt him at all,” Steve Nicolopulos, Edelman’s high school coach, said. “He’s always going to find a way to make something positive, something good happen.”

WOODSIDE HIGH SCHOOL

In 2004, Edelman was the senior quarterback where he led the team to a perfect 13-0 record, but it didn't come without some close games along the way. It was in those close games where Edelman proved to be the difference.

In the second game of the season, Woodside was trailing late in the fourth quarter and it was the last play of the game. Edelman and his team needed a touchdown. The short, squirrely quarterback was able to escape pressure, role to his right, and throw a ball into the end zone that was caught on a spectacular catch to give them the win.

Then in the championship game, Edelman, who ran the read-option with the best of them, made all the right reads and throws leading the way to a district championship.

“He always came up big when we needed it,” Nicolopulos said.

The coach noted how close the team was, and that impacted the way things went on the field. Edelman was the leader of making that happen.

“He was mature for his age. That team was very much together,” Nicolopulos said. “They were very much in sync. They were all good friends. They were always together. They were always together watching film together at lunch. They were always together off the field doing things as buddies. They were very close. Jules was kind of the leader. For the most part, it was a very unique situation.”

From there, it was on to College of San Mateo where he continued what he had started at Woodside.

COLLEGE OF SAN MATEO

Edelman didn’t get the college offers he wanted, so he opted for a year of junior college. But even there, he didn’t get to contribute right away.

The quarterback didn’t start the first game or even the second game. Finally, he started the third game, but threw a pick-6 on his first pass. Even through that adversity, it didn’t stop him and he stayed extremely competitive.

“He would leave the practice field and say, ‘Coach, I know my grade is this, if it is anything short of that we will meet in the morning and go over every play.’ He was very competitive,” his offensive coordinator Bret Pollack said. “Very competitive with the grading, very competitive with everything.”

Edelman got things together quickly and was the starter the remainder of the season. In the playoffs, San Mateo played the same team it lost to in Week 2 when Edelman didn’t play. The rematch went a lot different with Edelman being the difference-maker.

“It was time to win the game. We were on the 3-yard line and during a timeout he came over and goes, ‘Coach, you put it in my hands and if I don’t score I will put it in a position to kick a field goal and win,’” he told Pollack. “I was like, ‘OK, fine.’ So we ran it and they blitzed and I was like, ‘Oh my God, Julian.’ He pulled it and took a clean shot, but he stung out of it, dove, and came up short right in the middle. He came running off the field and we kicked the field goal and was like, ‘Coach, I told you we’d win this thing.’ 

“He called it exactly how it went.”

In his one year at the school, he threw for 1,312 yards and 14 touchdowns, while also rushing for a school-record 1,253 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Edelman was always super competitive, no matter if it was in a big game or even a card game with his teammates.

“Julian was the most competitive player we’ve ever had,” Pollack said. “That is what he does. He’s so competitive. To him it didn’t matter. It’s not like he turns it on, he’s always like that. It didn’t matter if you were playing cards, that is just who he is.”

From San Mateo, it was on to Kent State, the only school to give him a scholarship.

KENT STATE UNIVERSITY

Even before enrolling at the school, head coach Doug Martin (who is now coaching at New Mexico State) knew he had a special player.

“His film was a highlight film,” he said. “He made people miss in the open field, he could throw the ball. Talking with him you could tell he understood the game. The thing during the recruiting process that stood out to me though was he came on his official visit and he looked me right in the eye and he said, ‘I don’t care about any of the facility stuff or any of this other stuff, I just want to know if you believe in me?’ 

“I said, ‘Yeah, absolutely I believe in you. That is why you are here.’ He said, ‘Am I going to get the chance to be the starting quarterback?’ I said, ‘Yeah, you can compete for the starting quarterback job.’ And he said, ‘I coming and I will be your starting quarterback.’ And he was. That was him in a nutshell.”

At the school, Edelman played in some pretty big games on some big stages. And it was in those games where he had his best performances.

One that stood out most to Martin was in Edelman’s junior year when Kent State played at Kentucky the second week of the season. It got blown out, 56-20, but Edelman had 264 total yards, including 135 yards rushing on 24 carries.

“I can’t remember his stats, but I can tell you he was phenomenal, especially running the ball out of the spread offense,” Martin said. “They just couldn’t get him down on the ground. The thing that was remarkable, and I have never seen it before, but we were walking off the field going into the visitors locker room and the Kentucky fans in that area gave him a standing ovation coming off the field. 

“I have never seen that before.”

The year before Edelman got there, Kent State went 1-10 and the program was not going in the right direction. Martin credited Edelman for turning things around, as they went 6-6 in 2006, and it was his selflessness that was the thing that stood out most.

“Julian just changed the culture of the whole program when he came there because he was going to try and make everybody go to his standard,” Martin said. “He’s one of the few kids that I have ever had because his desire to succeed was greater than his desire to be liked. Most kids don’t want to cross that threshold with their buddies. He wanted to win so badly that he was willing to put himself out there and make sure everybody held that standard.”

Martin knew Edelman wasn’t going to be a quarterback in the NFL, but that didn’t mean he didn’t think he would succeed.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

After being drafted Edelman seamlessly made the transition to wide receiver and it didn’t take him long to show he could perform on the biggest of stages.

In his first playoff game, Edelman had two touchdowns — the only two touchdowns in the Patriots’ 33-14 loss to the Ravens at home on wild card weekend in the 2009 season. That was only a sign for things to come — like being in the same conversation as Rice when it comes to playoff success.

But, at this point it isn’t surprising — just ask Tom Brady.

"That is when Julian is at his best, in the biggest moments,” he said on Mut & Callahan this week.

The same goes for Martin, the only person to take a chance on him coming out of junior college.

“Nothing he does ever surprises me, I can tell you that,” he said. “He is one of the toughest players I have ever been around. He just makes plays. He’s not afraid of the moment. He wants the ball. He wants to do things and I’m just really proud watching him. 

“He made himself into a player. Nobody has ever given this kid anything. Nobody wanted to give him a scholarship coming out of college. We were his only offer. He came to Kent State and he earned the starting quarterback job. Nobody wanted him in the NFL. He earned his way into that and had to change positions to do it. 

“I just love seeing him succeed.”

Related: Chiefs list 10 players on injury report, while Patriots have just 1

Comments ()